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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Savoy


  Will Young/ Ph: Keith Pattison

Six years ago, director Rufus Norris presented his nastier than Nazi version of Cabaret in the West End courtesy of producer Bill Kenwright, with unexpected non-star casting.
It was a critically acclaimed festival of black leather, lingerie and bare bottoms in the Kit Kat Klub, with a striking finale of naked Jewish prisoners huddled in the snow proving that tomorrow most definitely didn’t belong to them.
As if by magic, if not exactly wild public demand (the first weekday matinee was half full), the same production has been resurrected at the Savoy Theatre on the Strand, plopping down there for 15 weeks after a U.K. tour led by Pop Idol winner (10 years ago) Will Young, who has since forged a highly successful chart-topping career, as the Emcee, and Michelle Ryan, a British television favourite and Jaime Sommers in NBC’s drama series Bionic Woman, as Sally Bowles.
It looks in good lick, and the explicit spiciness of the cabaret scenes, full of goose steps and high steps, rigid backs and rigid salutes from the off, now seems more sinuously, and sinfully, integrated into the dream world and bedsit land of both Fraulein Schneider (beautifully done this time round by Sian Phillips) and Clifford Bradshaw (Matt Rawle), the American writer to whom the show happens.
That dynamic in Norris’ production I missed before. It’s as though Cliff (the alter ego of Christopher Isherwood, who wrote librettist Joe Masteroff’s source book, "Goodbye to Berlin"), has the Klub and then the girls, not to mention Sally, hurled at him as a softening-up process before the bad guys move in big time. And here, he’s not only duped by sex and smuggling, but also kicked half to death on the street by the new brown-shirted racist idealists.
Young proves a leering, deeply unlikeable Emcee, with a Teutonic jawbone, staring cold eyes and a pretty good singing technique, though his acting is only, well, half cock. The same reservation applies, really, to Ryan, who is much more Julie Andrews than Sally Bowles; she’s supposed to be English, sure, but she’s also supposed to be a hard liver and drinker.
And the drink’s gin, not coke. The girls in the club do the other sort of coke alright, and there’s an awful lot of bumping and grinding in Javier de Frutos’ dance routines that go out of their way not to come anywhere near the Bob Fosse slinkiness and bentwood chair syndrome of the Liza Minelli movie.
This is dance as a downright and dirty weapon of sexual attrition. Even the jokey “three-in-a-bed” number “Two Ladies” is turned into an orgy with half the chorus line and a giraffe (don’t ask) delving down under the duvet. Many of the songs are over-elaborated in this way; the punch line in “If You Could See Her” (through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all) is done as a shadow play with lots of cavorting that slows down the number – and which ends on a live image of Anne Frank, not an ape, which ruins the joke.      
But this may sound over-picky. The act one finale is tremendous, with Young’s Emcee directing operations like a puppet master with a band of Tyrolean wooden figures. And Phillips’ Frau Schneider is expertly partnered by Linal Haft as Herr Schultz, the fruiterer, and their numbers together are discharged with a poignant delicacy.
Including the songs from the movie is a mixed blessing, as Ryan simply doesn’t have the lungs, or the acting power, to pull off Minelli’s great torch song “Maybe This Time,” written specially for her by John Kander and Fred Ebb, though “The Money Song” is a riot and Young delivers “I Don’t Care Much” in its ghostly waltz time as he glides through Cliff’s apartment en route to giving him his farewell papers at the border he’s patrolled, metaphorically, all evening.


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